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The New Cool: A warmup for the weekend's virtual Grammy Awards

Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
The golden phonograph Grammy Awards - modern jazz stars populate this year's nominees.

The waning months of the pandemic are still keeping stages empty of live jazz, but a terrific string of new releases have certainly helped fans stay sane. A streaming edition of the Grammy Awards Sunday night will celebrate new music, and The New Cool highlights a few modern jazz favorites Friday night on KNKX.

The Northwest-born vocal quartet säje - Sara Gazarek, Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick and Erin Bentlage - have been full of exciting surprises this year. "Desert Song," their first composition, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals category. Just weeks ago, they announced that säje will be part of an all-nominee premier ceremony performance of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me."

You can livestream starting at noon, and also join säje for a virtual Facebook Grammy watch party that night. While you're there, check out a clip of their new cover of "While This Moment Slips Away" by New Cool favorites The Bad Plus.

Trumpet sensation Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah earned his fourth and fifth Grammy nominations this year for his live album Axiom. Recorded two years ago this week at the Blue Note in New York, the trumpeter's quintet includes young flutist and vocalist Elena Pinderhughes as the "second horn." It gives a fresh feel to the material, drawn from Adjuah's prolific output since his 2015 album, Stretch Music.

A live performance from Adjuah's 2015 band in the KNKX studios, with Braxton Cook on sax, will be featured on the Studio Session Spotlight, immediately before The New Cool begins Friday night at 9. Their modern jazz-rock banger "West of the West" is included both on the Axiom album and in our exclusive session recording.

Nerd alert: Five copies of Axiom pressed on two slabs of purple vinyl are still available as of this writing.

Memories of live jazz are celebrated with Snarky Puppy's album Live at the Royal Albert Hall, nominated alongside Axiom in the Contemporary Instrumental Music category. The practiced live act included mostly music from the recent Immigrance album, plus older songs like "Shofunkan." Beating the bootleggers at their own game, Snarky Puppy released digital rough mixes to the crowd 15 minutes after the show. (The nominated album is a much-improved final mix.)

As modern jazz gleefully dances along vague genre borderlines, the Grammys' jazz category cannot contain modern artists like keyboardist-composer-producer Robert Glasper, singer Gregory Porter and producer-bass player Thundercat. Each earned Grammy nominations in the R&B categories.

In the arranging category along with the singers of säje is one-man band Jacob Collier, featuring jazzy rapper Rapsody. Modern jazz saxophone star Kamasi Washington earned his first Grammy nomination this year for the score he wrote and performed for the Michelle Obama documentary Becoming.

They can be fun, but the Grammys Sunday night don't give these wonderful artists the respect they truly deserve. Awards are for showoffs, and the artist's true reward is in the creation. Still, I hope you'll join me in rooting on the ladies and gentlemen who make our lives better with their art.

The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.